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Chapter II—The poets are unfit to be religious teachers.

Whom, then, ye men of Greece, do ye call your teachers of religion? The poets? It will do your cause no good to say so to men who know the poets; for they know how very ridiculous a theogony they have composed,—as we can learn from Homer, your most distinguished and prince of poets. For he says, first, that the gods were in the beginning generated from water; for he has written thus: 2508

“Both ocean, the origin of the gods, and their mother Tethys”

And then we must also remind you of what he further says of him whom ye consider the first of the gods, and whom he often calls “the father of gods and men;” for he said: 2509

“Zeus, who is the dispenser of war to men.”

Indeed, he says that he was not only the dispenser of war to the army, but also the cause of perjury to the Trojans, by means of his daughter; 2510 and Homer introduces him in love, and bitterly complaining, and bewailing himself, and plotted against by the other gods, and at one time exclaiming concerning his own son: 2511

“Alas! he falls, my most beloved of men!
Sarpedon, vanquished by Patroclus, falls.
So will the fates.”

And at another time concerning Hector: 2512

“Ah! I behold a warrior dear to me
Around the walls of Ilium driven, and grieve
For Hector.”

And what he says of the conspiracy of the other gods against Zeus, they know who read these words: 2513 “When the other Olympians—Juno, and Neptune, and Minerva —wished to bind him.” And unless the blessed gods had feared him whom gods call Briareus, Zeus would have been bound by them. And what Homer says of his intemperate loves, we must remind you in the very words he used. For he said that Zeus spake thus to Juno: 2514p. 274

“For never goddess pour’d, nor woman yet,
So full a tide of love into my breast;
I never loved Ixion’s consort thus,
Nor sweet Acrisian Danaë, from whom
Sprang Perseus, noblest of the race of man;
Nor Phœnix’ daughter fair, of whom were born
Minos, unmatch’d but by the powers above,
And Rhadamanthus; nor yet Semele,
Nor yet Alcmene, who in Thebes produced
The valiant Hercules; and though my son
By Semele were Bacchus, joy of man;
Nor Ceres golden-hair’d, nor high-enthron’d
Latona in the skies; no—nor thyself
As now I love thee, and my soul perceive
O’erwhelm’d with sweetness of intense desire.”

It is fit that we now mention what one can learn from the work of Homer of the other gods, and what they suffered at the hands of men. For he says that Mars and Venus were wounded by Diomed, and of many others of the gods he relates the sufferings. For thus we can gather from the case of Dione consoling her daughter; for she said to her: 2515

“Have patience, dearest child; though much enforc’d
Restrain thine anger: we, in heav’n who dwell,
Have much to bear from mortals; and ourselves
Too oft upon each other suff’rings lay:
Mars had his suff’rings; by Alöeus sons,
Otus and Ephialtes, strongly bound,
He thirteen months in brazen fetters lay:
Juno, too, suffer’d, when Amphitryon’s son
Thro’ her right breast a three-barb’d arrow sent:
Dire, and unheard of, were the pangs she bore,
Great Pluto’s self the stinging arrow felt,
When that same son of Ægis-bearing Jove
Assail’d him in the very gates of hell,
And wrought him keenest anguish; pierced with pain,
To high Olympus, to the courts of Jove,
Groaning, he came; the bitter shaft remain’d
Deep in his shoulder fix’d, and griev’d his soul.”

But if it is right to remind you of the battle of the gods, opposed to one another, your own poet himself will recount it, saying: 2516

“Such was the shock when gods in battle met;
For there to royal Neptune stood oppos’d
Phœbus Apollo with his arrows keen;
The blue-eyed Pallas to the god of war;
To Juno, Dian, heav’nly archeress,
Sister of Phœbus, golden-shafted queen.
Stout Hermes, helpful god, Latona fac’d.”

These and such like things did Homer teach you; and not Homer only, but also Hesiod. So that if you believe your most distinguished poets, who have given the genealogies of your gods, you must of necessity either suppose that the gods are such beings as these, or believe that there are no gods at all.



Iliad, xiv. 302.


Iliad, xix. 224.


That is, Venus, who, after Paris had sworn that the war should be decided by single combat between himself and Menelaus, carried him off, and induced him, though defeated, to refuse performance of the articles agreed upon.


Iliad, xvi. 433. Sarpedon was a son of Zeus.


Iliad, xxii. 168.


Iliad, i. 399, etc.


Iliad, xiv. 315. (The passage is here given in full from Cowper’s translation. In Justin’s quotation one or two lines are omitted.)


Iliad, v. 382 (from Lord Derby’s translation).


Iliad, xx. 66 (from Lord Derby’s translation).

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